In what is being characterized as a major blow to the United Auto Workers, workers at Volkswagen's plant in Chattanooga, TN have voted to reject union representation. The voting results – 712 opposed and 626 in favor – were released late Friday evening after a three-day secret ballot voting drive captured 89 percent of eligible workers. The results now go to the National Labor Relations Board for certification.
For its part, the UAW is blaming "outside interference" for its defeat.
The UAW exerted a great deal of effort and money on the failed membership push in hopes that a successful campaign could trigger a wave of unionization at foreign auto factories popping up in the South from companies like Volkswagen, BMW, Honda, Kia, Mercedes-Benz and Toyota. The closely watched drive piqued the nation's interest, and as Automotive News points out, "the election attracted widespread attention from third-party union supporters and opponents."
AN also points out that the failed drive will make Chattanooga something of an "outlier" in VW's portfolio of plants, as the vast majority of them are unionized, with most relying on special works councils that represent employees in important business decisions.
At present, VW assembles its Passat midsize sedan at the facility, but Chattanooga has been known to be in the running for a second model, an as-yet-unnamed crossover that is expected to be based on the three-row Crossblue Concept. It is not immediately clear what the union loss will mean for the plant's chances at gaining this second vehicle, but earlier this week, Republican Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee ruffled feathers when he proclaimed that he had received assurances from VW that the company would select Chattanooga as the manufacturing home of the new vehicle if workers spurned the union's overtures.
For its part, the UAW is blaming "outside interference" for its defeat, with UAW Region 8 Director Gary Casteel saying, "Unfortunately, politically motivated third parties threatened the economic future of this facility and the opportunity for workers to create a successful operating model that would grow jobs in Tennessee."
Both the UAW and VW have released official statements on the results, which you can read below.
Historic election brings outside interference in the vote of Chattanooga Volkswagen workers
02/14/14 CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – Workers at Volkswagen's Chattanooga plant today have voted against union representation that would have led to the establishment of a works council that would have been the first such model of labor-management relations in the United States.
At the end of voting on Friday, Volkswagen workers voted against joining the union in a vote of 712 to 626.
The decision follows three days of voting during an election supervised by the National Labor Relations Board and comes amid a firestorm of interference and threats from special interest groups.
"While we certainly would have liked a victory for workers here, we deeply respect the Volkswagen Global Group Works Council, Volkswagen management and IG Metall for doing their best to create a free and open atmosphere for workers to exercise their basic human right to form a union," said UAW President Bob King.
"We commend Volkswagen for its commitment to global human rights, to worker rights and trying to provide an atmosphere of freedom to make a decision," said UAW Region 8 Director Gary Casteel, who directs the union's Southern organizing. "Unfortunately, politically motivated third parties threatened the economic future of this facility and the opportunity for workers to create a successful operating model that that would grow jobs in Tennessee."
"While we're outraged by politicians and outside special interest groups interfering with the basic legal right of workers to form a union, we're proud that these workers were brave and stood up to the tremendous pressure from outside," said UAW Secretary-Treasurer Dennis Williams, who directs the union's transnational program. "We hope this will start a larger discussion about workers' right to organize."
VOLKSWAGEN CHATTANOOGA EMPLOYEES VOTE AGAINST UNION REPRESENTATION
Feb 14, 2014
Chattanooga, Tenn. (February 14, 2014) - Volkswagen Chattanooga employees have voted in a secret ballot election against United Auto Workers (UAW) representation. Participation in the election was 89 percent. 53 percent of the eligible employees who voted decided against the UAW as their bargaining representative in an election conducted by the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) between February 12 – 14.
"On behalf of Volkswagen Group of America, I want to thank all of our Chattanooga production and maintenance employees for their participation in this week's vote. They have spoken, and Volkswagen will respect the decision of the majority," said Frank Fischer, CEO and Chairman of Volkswagen Chattanooga. "The election results remain to be certified by the NLRB," Fischer, said.
"Our employees have not made a decision that they are against a works council. Throughout this process, we found great enthusiasm for the idea of an American-style works council both inside and outside our plant," Fischer noted. "Our goal continues to be to determine the best method for establishing a works council in accordance with the requirements of U.S. labor law to meet VW America's production needs and serve our employees' interests," Fischer said.
Sebastian Patta, Vice President for Human Resources, said: "While there was intense outside interest in this election, our managers and employees inside the plant maintained high quality production and continued to work together in a calm and respectful manner."
"Our commitment to Tennessee is a long term investment. We look forward to continuing to work with the State of Tennessee and the City of Chattanooga to support job creation, growth, and economic development today and into the future," Fischer added.
About Volkswagen Chattanooga
Volkswagen has invested $1 billion in the local economy for the Chattanooga plant and has created more than 5,000 jobs in the region. According to independent studies, the Volkswagen plant is expected to generate $12 billion in income growth and an additional 9,500 jobs related to its investment. The Chattanooga manufacturing facility builds the all-new Passat Sedan, specifically designed for the North American market and winner of the Motor Trend magazine 2012 Car of the Year award. Volkswagen Chattanooga is the first and still only car factory worldwide with a LEED Platinum certification. It is also certified according to ISO 14001 for its environmental management system and according to ISO 50001 for its energy management system.